Friday, January 10, 2014

Efficiency or Effectiveness

The speed of societal change and the competition for the material goods of society are bringing us closer to losing, unknowingly, the real benefits of communal living and distancing ourselves from our connection with Jesus and his body, the Church. In a recent issue of the Catholic Times, in its weekly column on faith and finances, the bishop reflects on the word 'efficiency,' particularly on how the word accurately portrays the current dominant value of our society. Before God, it is not a value we should add to those we have received as members of his kingdom.

In our daily lives we are likely to see the word used as an iconic badge of successful marketing: "super efficiency, energy efficiency...thermal efficiency...air conditioning efficiency."  The more efficient a product or a person is, the better, according to this current thinking. And this message is promoted with all kinds of splendid posters declaring the benefits of living efficiently. We have become so inundated and accustomed to this culture-speech that we are tempted to believe that low efficiency is bad, and possibly even evil.

The seriousness of the problem becomes obvious when we turn to the financial sector of society, with its standard of judging a person's worth by their perceived efficiency to contribute as participating members of society. More so than the ordinary citizen, the handicapped and the elderly--usually described, among others, as the "surplus people"--have borne the financial crunch for some time.

This is the cultural climate that surrounds us today, says the bishop. Young people frequently use the term "surplus people" to define a person who is not contributing anything to society, and thus is considered a useless individual. They also use the term to describe their own predicament. Though as students they prepared themselves with all kinds of special qualifications to contribute to society, many of them have not been able to find work and now spend their days surfing the internet. These graduates are the ones who consider themselves, as an economist named them, members of the "880,000 Won Generation"--workers at the bottom of the pay scale earning about US $650 a month, about what an irregular worker earns.

South Korea’s newest batch of university graduates lives in fear of being trapped at this bottom-level pay scale, and is the reason so many of them have given themselves the name of the "surplus generation." There is a need, says the bishop, to examine the economic situation of society to better understand what is prompting such alienating descriptions being applied to so many of our people. 
To be considered a surplus person is obviously, not easy to accept. But even if we put aside those who don't have jobs, those who do the routine drudge work in the manufacturing segment of the workplace are not seen with the dignity they deserve as sons and daughters of God, but seen only as expendable cogs furthering the profits of the company. This may be a legitimate operating principle when profit is the bottom line, but when considering the legitimate rights of the worker for finding satisfaction and fulfillment in life, the business model of efficiency becomes one of the absurdities of our society.

In the past, many persons did not have work that was satisfying and fulfilling, and today we may have even more persons who are considered "surplus humanity." We should know that this is not something that God looks upon favorably. However, our current media deliberately doesn't want to bring the seriousness of the situation to our attention, and many of our citizens choose to ignore the problem. Isn't this division between those who are useful and those who are not, a sure sign, the bishop says, of the culture of death that currently rules in our society? We who are Christians should be ready to respond to this challenge. Without such a response we are likely to continue having a society where the majority of us will soon join the younger generation as "surplus people."

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